Estate Planning for Digital Assets

Estate Planning Developments for Texas Professionals, April 2011

10 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2011 Last revised: 7 Sep 2014

See all articles by Gerry W. Beyer

Gerry W. Beyer

Texas Tech University School of Law

Kerri G. Nipp

U.S. Trust

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 8, 2011


For hundreds of years, we have viewed property as falling into two major categories – personal property and real property. Personal property is traditionally further divided into tangible personal property, meaning items you can see or hold, and intangible personal property, meaning items that lack physicality. Recently, a new subdivision of personal property has emerged that many label as “digital assets.” There is no real consensus about the property category in which digital assets belong. Some say they are intellectual property, some say they are intangible property, and others say they can easily be transformed from one form of property to another with the click of a “print” button. In actuality, some accounts that we consider “assets” are simply just licenses to use a website’s service that generally expire upon death.

While estate planners have perfected techniques used to transfer types of property that have been around for a long time, most estate planners have not figured out how to address the disposition of digital assets. It is important to understand digital assets and to incorporate the disposition of them into clients’ estate plans.

This article aims to educate estate planning professionals on the importance of planning for the disposition of digital assets as well as how to do so. In addition, this article provides an overview of current deceased-user policies of common online accounts and services offered by online afterlife companies to aid in the planning process.

Keywords: digital assets, estate planning, wills, probate, property

JEL Classification: K11

Suggested Citation

Beyer, Gerry W. and Nipp, Kerri G., Estate Planning for Digital Assets (March 8, 2011). Estate Planning Developments for Texas Professionals, April 2011, Available at SSRN:

Gerry W. Beyer (Contact Author)

Texas Tech University School of Law ( email )

3311 18th Street
Lubbock, TX 79409-0004
United States
806-834-4270 (Phone)
978-285-7941 (Fax)


Kerri G. Nipp

U.S. Trust ( email )

United States

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